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Home » News » Article first appeared in Western Mail 30.04.19

Article first appeared in Western Mail 30.04.19

The Joyous Derry Girls is the hit show of the moment, it is filled with laughter. Derry Girls paints Derry as a town full of warmth and optimism. Its second season shows the road to the Good Friday Agreement. The hopefulness of Derry Girls reflects the feeling in 1998 when the Good Friday agreement was signed.

The fifth episode of Derry Girls ends as everyone comes out of their homes on to the street to celebrate the ceasefire and the knowledge their troubles could be ending at long last. What greater contrast could there be to that wonderful scene than what took place in Derry in the early hours of Good Friday.

After an evening of violence on the streets of Derry a young woman full of potential Lyra McKee was murdered. Lyra was a journalist with a bright future, she told the stories of those who grew up in Northern Ireland after the ceasefire, she gave a voice to the post Good Friday Generation.

Lyra had just signed a book deal and had a promising career ahead of her. Heartbreakingly she was planning to propose to her partner Sara Canning for whom she had moved to Derry. Her life was cut far too short by a senseless act of violence.

Lyra‘s funeral brought political leaders from Westminster and Belfast under the same roof, where Priest Fr Magill bravely asked, “Why does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?”. It is such an important question and one I hope we will all reflect on. Why does it take a tragedy for us to talk to each other?

Northern Ireland is at a dangerous fork in the road. It has been without an Assembly for just over two years. The lines of communication that gave us the Good Friday Agreement have broken down and violence is increasing. It should not have taken the funeral mass of a young woman killed on the streets of Derry to bring the politicians back to the table.

After the Good Friday it is easy to think the troubles were at an end. However, like many communities, Northern Ireland has it’s day to day challenges we sadly see everywhere, from drugs to suicide in the young. Lyra as a product of the post-Good Friday Agreement chronicled them all.

Lyra showed us that the Good Friday Agreement was not perfect. She showed how many it left behind. However, there are lessons to learn from the Agreement that brought this fragile peace.

It is important to remember the Good Friday Agreement did not just represent the end of widespread violence in Northern Ireland, it was more than that. It showed using your words brought about a better world than violence ever could. It showed talking to those whose views seem to be the polar opposite of your own can have profound results. It showed us no conflict is so entrenched that compromise cannot be found.

We cannot risk a return to everyday violence on the streets of Northern Ireland. It should not take a tragedy to remind us what is at stake. It should not take a tragedy to get us to talk to those we disagree with.

These are lesson I think we all need to be reminded of given the current state of public discourse. Lyra’s death should remind us that we need to start talking to each other more. When we are shouting it means that we cannot hear each other over the noise. We need to take more time to understand each other instead of making assumptions.

Instead of name calling let’s sit down with the people we disagree with and have a conversation. You may not end up agreeing on everything but I often find you agree on far more than you thought. After all most people just want the best for our friends and families, our wider community and country. Sometimes we just disagree on the best way to get there.

People’s memories fade too quickly but I hope with the death of Lyra we will learn the lessons we said we would learn when my colleague Jo Cox was murdered. We need more communication and less violence. We need to seek to understand others even when we disagree with them.

In the words of Jo Cox ‘We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us’. That is a lesson we need now more than ever.